Plot: What’s it about?
Arthur (Claude Brasseur) and Franz (Sami Frey) have become bored with life’s repetitive motions, to the point where even crime is often dull. Then again, they’re small-time operators in the crime world, though they have aspirations to climb the ladder of success. The two might work together, but they’re quite different, as Arthur is an arrogant, hulkish man and Franz is more the quiet, sensitive type of gentleman. One new fold in their lives is the presence of Odile (Anna Karina), a beautiful young woman who attends the same English language class as them. The two men are drawn to her from the start, due to her good looks and charisma, but they also have a financial reason to treasure her. You see, she lives in a boarding house and in that same dwelling, one of the cohabitants happens to have a trove of wealth on hand. The riches haven’t even been hidden, all you have to do is get inside and open the cupboard to see the loot. Of course, Arthur and Franz want to break in and make off with the riches, but they’ll need Odile’s assistance. Even though she has feelings for both men, especially in Arthur’s case, she is hesitant about helping them with the criminal effort. When she agrees however, things spin out of control, as an early attempt fails, distrust grows between the trio, and outsiders now want the wealth for themselves. Will anyone wind up with the loot and if so, will they have lost much more in the process?
If there is such a concept as a typical Jean-Luc Godard picture, then Band of Outsiders doesn’t even come close to that standard. I have seen most of Godard’s movies and this one harkens back to some of his other efforts, but also takes some new roads. Even so, its hard to gauge how even Godard fans will react to Band of Outsiders, as in addition to repeating elements from other Godard pictures, it simply doesn’t have his usual trademarks. I should actually say, despite repeating elements from other Godard pictures, but I think you get the idea here. There is much less experimentation within Band of Outsiders, though it does have some moments that evoke Godard’s finest triumphs, if you ask me. But when I watch this movie with other Godard fans, most find it to be a disappointment, or a decent project at best. By the same turn, I have friends who dislike most of Godard’s resume, but they find Band of Outsiders to be worthwhile. In any event, its hard to deny the brilliance of the key sequences and if you’re even a casual film buff, you’ll notice how many filmmakers were inspired by this one, especially Quentin Tarantino. This movie has a lot of slow stretches, but when it pays off, it pays off large and as such, its hard not to recommend it. So if you’re interested, don’t miss Band of Outsiders, as Criterion has done some great work here.
This is a movie about people who have boring lives, so of course, Band of Outsiders has sequences that most will be bored with. But such is the intention of Godard and in order to make those dull stretches tolerable, he needed a gifted cast of players. The finest effort here is put forth by Anna Karina, who also happened to be Godard’s wife at the time of production. A lot of filmmakers use their spouses because of their relationships and not their talents, but Karina is dynamite here and commands the screen. Well, as much as one can command the screen here anyway, given the nature of the material and such. Even beyond her intense beauty, Karina shines in Band of Outsiders and her performance forces you to pay full attention to the picture. She is called upon to go through an evolution of sorts, mostly via internal alterations, but she handles it all with ease and is simply superb here. Other films with Karina include Alphaville, The Truth About Charlie, A Woman is a Woman, and The Little Soldier. The cast also includes Claude Brasseur (Rififi in Paris, Eyes Without a Face), Sami Frey (The Seven Deadly Sins, Therese), and Louisa Colpeyne (The Sex Shop, The Passion of Slow Fire).
Video: How does it look?
Band of Outsiders is presented in full frame, as intended. To say this treatment is excellent is to do it injustice, as this is a masterful effort from Criterion. A digital restoration has yielded a clean, super sharp visual presentation. You’ll still see some minor nicks at times, but unintentional grain is minimal and general defects are even less frequent. The result is s sparkling visual treatment that allows the material to shine, with a highly refined and crystal clear appearance. The contrast is flawless also, so the black & white visuals come through without a hitch, as black levels are stark and never falter in the least. I can’t imagine how Band of Outsiders could look better on DVD, another elite visual treatment from Criterion.
Audio: How does it sound?
The original French language soundtrack is preserved here, via a restored & remastered mono option. This is still mono, so it doesn’t have much range or presence, but for what it is, this is a very solid presentation. The restoration process cleaned up the materials, so you won’t hear much hiss, distortion, or the like. This means the dialogue can emerge in crisp and always audible fashion, while the other elements remain unhindered also. As this is a dialogue driven picture, the mono format handles the needs well enough, especially in this restored version. This disc also includes new & improved, optional English subtitles.
Supplements: What are the extras?
The extras here begin with a visual glossary, which examines some of the references within the picture. This is a nice inclusion, as it helps clear up some of the trouble spots and in-jokes, plus the narrator sounds like the dude from Fishing with John. An excerpt from a television special includes interview time with Godard, as well as some rare behind the scenes material from Band of Outsiders. This only runs about five minutes, but when you consider the value of the material within those minutes, its a most welcome inclusion. The silent “film within a film” Les Fiances du Pont MacDonald, as seen in Agnes Varda’s Cleo from 5 to 7, is also found here and stars Godard and some of his regulars. This disc also includes exclusive video interviews with Karina and cinematographer Raoul Coutard, each of which is enjoyable and informative. Rounding out this package are two theatrical trailers for the film, one of which is the American preview, while the other is Godard’s original version.